I do not think it is beyond our ingenuity to delete both terms. I do not regard Shanganagh as being ideal but I welcome the set-up in the institution. Although admittedly the Department and the prison staffs have had two years experience of running this institution, and although admittedly it is still in the experimental stages, I feel strongly that it will become a vital part of the evolution of a more effective, a more humane and a more democratic penal system in this country.
Therefore, I welcome the comments of the Minister. I have not any special insight into penal practices but I consider there are a number of points worthy of mention in this House. The professional staffs of the Department of Justice work in these institutions in extremely difficult conditions. They must possess an exceptionally high degree of training and understanding. At the same time, they must maintain normal discipline and be able to develop effective relationships with the persons committed to these institutions. By and large, the staffs concerned are not accorded either the level of training, of pay or general conditions of service that are essential to attract and retain in the service men and women of the high calibre required. There is an urgent need for the new Minister and for all the parties to review in a comprehensive and effective manner the conditions of service of prison officers, of governor grades and the new ancillary categories of staff.
So far as actual prison conditions are concerned, there does not seem to be any really effective long-term policy in the Department of Justice on the future role of our penal institutions. I think Deputy Bruton and Deputy Fitzpatrick would concur with me that we have spent many thousands of pounds on maintenance and reconstruction of institutions such as Mountjoy and St. Patrick's when it might have been wiser to seek alternative sites convenient to Dublin and construct modern detention centres. By doing this I consider we would now have a more effective system in operation. I stress this point because, notwithstanding the efforts of the Department staff and the associated Government agencies, I am convinced there is an urgent need to get rid of the old, grim, Victorian structures of Mountjoy and St. Patrick's and many of the other needlessly unpleasant features which still exist in our prisons.
In Ireland we have developed a more modern attitude towards prison conditions in the past few years but we are still far behind much of the advanced European thinking on this matter. We have a long way to go before we catch up with the modern evolution of prison reform on the Continent and even in certain parts of Britain. There are many aspects of prison life which need reform: there is the matter of prison dress, the censorship of letters, the restriction and supervision of visits, cheap labour, the discharge of prisoners and, in particular, the insurance situation where employment cards are not given to prisoners. All of these are justified by the Department as being necessary evils and due to lack of facilities. However, to an objective outsider, and particularly to the prisoners themselves, these aspects of prison life can only be regarded as a continuation of outdated policies and of what might be called a perverse attitude in the matter of punishment and general human degradation.
Notwithstanding the enlightened statement of the Minister, there is going to be considerable difficulty in convincing the public at large that they must advocate improved conditions in our penal institutions. We must get rid of the idea that transgressors must suffer, that unless they suffer to the limits of the law their crimes will not be expiated and they will not be reformed. This moralistic assumption is inbred in our attitude to prison life and punishment and until there is a change of public opinion a great deal of the work and the enlightened attitude in the Department of Justice will come to nothing. I am of the opinion —this is generally accepted among those concerned with prison reform— that prolonged imprisonment is more likely to have deformative effects on the mind and outlook of those subjected to it rather than reformative.
When inmates, to use that horrible term, suffer deliberate punitive methods in prisons, these are more likely to aggravate the human defects they already suffer from than reform them. I submit there is an obligation on the prison system, even if it cannot make better men and women out of those committed to its charge, to ensure it does not make them worse. The main purpose of modern methods in our prisons, institutions and juvenile detention centres is to seek to counter, as strenuously as possible, the danger inherent in prolonged confinement of the deterioration of the moral fibre of the prisoners as well as of their mental and physical well-being. I am not suggesting that the same degree of impact occurs on those serving short sentences; nevertheless, I think this aspect is worthy of consideration by the new Minister for Justice.
There is a great need to replace the negative aspects of prison life, the repressive aspects of institutional custodial life, with something positive and constructive. All sentences should be designed to encourage the reawakening and the development of self-respect in the prisoners themselves. The only way this can be done is by having these virtues practised in prisons.
I welcome the Minister's intention to develop more open prisons. There is nothing particularly new about open prisons. The First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held in Geneva in 1955, defined an open prison as characterised by the absence of material or physical precautions against escape (such as walls, locks, bars, armed or other special security guards) and by a system based on self-discipline and the inmate's sense of responsibility towards the group in which he lives. The congress concluded that the open institution marks an important step in the development of modern prison systems and represents one of the most successful applications of the principle of the individualisation of penalties with a view to social readjustment. It recommended the extension of the open system to the largest possible number of prisoners, subject to certain conditions suggested for the proper working of the system. This is of particular importance in penal and prison reform in this country.
It is always dangerous for the public representative to say this, but I believe there is a residue of public ignorance in relation to the question of crime, and a great deal of superficial public reaction to questions of crime and prison reform. There is therefore a tremendous obligation on the Department of Justice and on Members of this House to try to develop a more enlightened public attitude on this question. Most people do not think about the prison system until a member of their own family, a neighbour's child or an acquaintance gets a prison sentence.
I concur with the courageous admission made by the Minister about employment for prisoners. In his speech he said the provision of suitable employment for prisoners was one of special difficulty. He pointed out that the present gratuity paid to prisoners is 7s a week and that this cannot be regarded as being anything more than pocket money. If one is sentenced to a term of imprisonment, whether for a couple of months or a couple of years, I do not think the sum of 7s a week payment for prison labour, which is, after all, only the price of 30 cigarettes, can be regarded as anything but a personal insult. When their sentences are up these prisoners are expected to resume a normal role in society and perhaps even maintain a family. The provision of suitable and normal employment for prisoners should be the subject of great consideration by both the Minister and his Department.
I can assure the Minister I am not unaware of the difficulties involved. I am not unaware that some employers will start shouting their heads off about the use of cheap labour; equally, some trade unionists may feel that prisoners working on a particular job may affect their particular employment. I am not unaware of the difficulties of training prisoners in skilled or semi-skilled work. I would particularly encourage training in the construction and engineering industries because prisoners are likely to obtain employment in these industries when they are released. I feel the work done by the interdepartmental committee for the employment of prisoners should be reassessed by the Minister. I am not entirely certain whether or not this committee is still in existence.
The Minister did mention the interdepartmental committee for the prevention of crime and the treatment of offenders, but I would suggest that a special internal committee to deal with the question of the provision of employment for prisoners should be set up. I should like to see a special committee set up on a national basis, representative of employers, trade unions, prison staffs, specialist staffs and so on. This could be of immense value in breaking down many of the existing barriers. The day has gone when it was accepted that the work of the prisoner, be he a juvenile offender or an adult criminal, must be made as hard and as degrading as possible. This concept is now being abandoned and the general idea is that reform is constituted of a great deal more than merely keeping prisoners out of mischief or making sure that lazy prisoners do some work.
I welcome the Minister's statement in regard to prison employment. I have no doubt that the introduction of a board, together with a comprehensive and effective system of employment, will ensure that prisoners will make the best possible contribution to the community in general while serving their sentences. Because sentences are for the most part of short duration it is extremely difficult to give any proper training for employment, but if work is properly scheduled and organised there is no reason why rehabilitation and reintegration should be difficult. If Deputies had experience of the timetable in Mountjoy they would emerge very shattered. It is archaic, to say the least of it. I am sure the prison staff could make many suggestions for improvement, suggestions which the Minister should consider. If suitable employment is properly integrated into the timetable it could make a very valuable contribution towards the training of prisoners before they leave prison. Many of our young offenders have very little experience of anything other than casual work. Many of them find themselves in dead-end jobs. If they could be educated during their time in prison into appreciating what a typical industrial job is like and what it requires this could have a very healthy effect. As it is, they have no proper concept of working under normal working conditions and they are completely unaware of this particular type of human activity. I am not overstressing the situation. If they are given this kind of experience they will have a far better chance of getting a job on discharge and, more important still, of keeping it. But that will not be the pattern if they are occupied in wholly ineffective employment during the duration of their stay.
I do not suggest that prison employment alone is the only internal reform required, but it is most important. If the young prisoner or the juvenile detainee cannot get employment in the critical three or four weeks after discharge then a very small incident— perhaps the reaction of a prospective employer or of a member of his own family—sets in train again a pattern that one is trying to correct and I suggest to the Minister that a great deal depends on prisoners being given confidence in themselves while they are in prison and confidence in their ability to do a job in industry as an alternative to making a living through crime.
I have had some very small experience of trying to get trade union membership cards for young offenders just out of prison to ensure their being integrated into a normal industrial environment and the one quality I found lacking in most of them was the feeling of their personal incapacity to do a job, even when they were given a job and were looked after by a trade union secretary. This total failure in confidence is quite contrary to the popular conception of what a prisoner is like on discharge. I would stress this to the Minister from the point of view of welfare and discharge care. It is of major importance.
I can never understand why prisoners in our society should be completely debarred from access to the outside world. I could never appreciate the ultra-moralistic concept that one takes a man out of normal living and cuts him completely off from ordinary social conditions. Then, on discharge, he is expected to re-integrate himself into society. I suggest there should be full access to wireless and television. That is the only hope. That might be the popular wish, but there is also the popular conception that not only must freedom be withdrawn but normal human involvement must also be cut off. This is an inbred attitude to crime and punishment in our community and it is almost impossible to convince people that, by taking this attitude, one is only increasing criminal propensity instead of eradicating it. The worst punishment is the withdrawal of freedom.
We get the kind of juvenile delinquent we deserve. I detest the term "juvenile delinquent". I do not think anyone has defined it. I find these terms on the whole most unsatisfactory. The Minister might examine them in the context of future development. I am sure Spiro Agnew would not share my sentiments, but time will tell where he is concerned. There is a good deal of talk—I do not suggest political parties have contributed to it—about forging ahead. I see a great deal of the suburban rat race in which so much emphasis is laid on the acquisition of the trappings of what is regarded as the good life, the acquisition of the consumer goods which allegedly symbolise the development of human status in our contemporary society. You see this tremendous pressure, epitomised by RTE advertising and newspaper advertising, and the general goals and ideals held up as being the life which people should live, and you see these goals being accepted by the vast majority of our population as normal in our society. Then take somebody coming from a poor background, a deprived family, somebody whose mental capacity is perhaps innately in some respects subnormal or deprived in many ways and he sees that many other sectors of the community are striving and racing after these success symbols, and when he stumbles when put under the same pressure, inevitably he develops the idea of taking the illegitimate, illegal shortcuts to gain these success symbols. Therefore, I suggest to the Minister that he might in future warn society at large against unleashing unrealistic and unattainable aspirations among many sections of our community. The consumer orientated status society in which we live has aroused aspirations—not only aroused them but frustrated them in many respects —and as a result we get the criminals, the juvenile delinquents and the people that we deserve to get from that approach.
I suggest that this is a dangerous tendency in society. We do not need any moralistic lectures about the dangers of materialism but I think it is a tendency which the Minister should in future discourage. I have no doubt that he will do so much more effectively but in a much more humane manner than by adopting the out-dated attitudes his predecessor at times tended to adopt in such matters. I do not accept, notwithstanding the growth in our prison population and the development of a more effective penal system, this Jeremiah view which is so popular, particularly in America and in many parts of Britain, epitomised by the Conservative Party attitude and epitomised by some of the attitudes of some of the backbenchers of some of the parties in this House: that society at large has become much more immoral and has generally declined in terms of moralistic propriety in this country and in Europe as a whole. It is by no means established, as yet, that either in this or in any other country in Europe the average family is less stable or less cohesive or less integrated than, say, 20 years ago. When we look upon the social changes that have occurred in this country even in the past decade, I think it is true to say that the television set has resulted in families becoming more home centred and that social life centred around the local pub has, perhaps, declined among certain sections of the community.
We have shorter working hours, better housing conditions. We have had a considerable increase in our standard of living and an enormous increase in household goods. We have a better system of education—for which the Opposition parties, I would submit, are as much responsible as the Government—and we have greater leisure to enjoy these benefits. As a result we have had a considerable breakdown in the rigid roles of parents. Husbands, in particular, now take a more active interest in their homes and children. As a result, many public-houses have lost custom which they had down the years. These are social developments with a profound impact on the lessening of crime and instability among our people and on the opening up of society.
While, admittedly, there are new problems such as drugs and new social pressures and so on, it is my view that the general moral health of our young people is better now than in the twenties or thirties or even the fifties and sixties.
These points I am putting to the Minister are of a somewhat general nature but they are of considerable importance. I do not favour public relations officers in Government Departments as such but I think the public relations of his Department could be better. Equally, I would suggest that Deputies should have an opportunity of visiting the institutions under the Department. I know there is the fact, and I agree with it, that a Member of this House has no special privileges in regard to visiting any constituent who may be in prison and that he has to seek the permission of the Minister. But if a State-sponsored body such as Aer Lingus can invite Deputies to go up in a jet and fly around Dublin and then discuss with the general manager of Aer Lingus the role of the company, why should we not have an opportunity of visiting Mountjoy? I have been there before on visitation. Why could we not visit Shanganagh and other institutions in groups and meet the staffs and the governors? I have no doubt the departmental staff would accept that a more enlightened knowledge by public representatives of what happens in these institutions would contribute to more effective debate here.
In conclusion, I congratulate the Minister on his comprehensive introductory speech on this Bill which was of a very high order. I certainly welcome and support this Bill and I have no doubt that it augurs well for the Minister's future tenure of office.